The Vertical Drop Guarantee: How does it work?

November 27, 2019 Liam Harrap

Each time I adventure, I dream of buffets. My mind wonders to platters of sushi or bulging tacos as I thrash through shrubbery up a distant peak. Pink peppercorn crusted beef tenderloin, a red wine demi glaze with sauteed chanterelles is beyond me. I want quantity over quality.  I’m hungry and yearning for calories.

When it comes to heli-skiing, choosing a company is difficult. In B.C. alone, there are more than 22 different heli skiing operations. Some have a minimum vertical drop guarantee, meaning if you don’t ski the minimum amount, you get a refund. If you ski over it, you pay. Others offer unlimited heliskiing packages, which seem splendid, but it’s important to read the fine print.

I must admit, whenever I see “unlimited”, it’s hard not to choose that one. I mean, it’s unlimited, like a buffet. What could be wrong?

Yet, if you recall the best meals of your life, were any of them buffets? Most likely not and if they were, you need to get out more.

Buffets are notorious for not using the best or freshest ingredients. For example, many all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants do not use the best cuts or freshest fish. All-you-can-eat is perfect for getting rid of scapes. Sure, it’s still safe to eat, but the shrimp is past it’s prime.

With unlimited vertical, there is no push to provide the best skiing or even the most skiing possible. It’s a business after all, so it’s basic economics that the operator wants to make money. Otherwise, there might soon only be 21 heli-skiing operations.

The Vertical Drop Guarantee

At Last Frontier Heliskiing, we guarantee a set amount of vertical meters based on the length of your trip. Simply put, you pay for what you ski. In our opinion, this is the best value and overall experience for heli-skiing.

For example, if you have a 7-day package, you are guaranteed to ski 30,500 metres. If your vertical guarantee is not reached because Old Man Winter is too unreasonable or due to mechanical breakdowns, we will provide a refund for vertical not skied. However, if the skiing is awesome, which is frequent, there are additional vertical charges.

On average, skiers get 42,500 metres on a 7-day package and if they’re lucky, maybe even more than 55,000 metres. It all depends on weather conditions and experience of the group.  Unless you tell us otherwise, we will assume that if conditions allow you are here to ski. Lots. That said, it’s your holiday so it’s up to you.

Unlimited Vertical

While an all-you-can-ski fantasy is the stuff of dreams it’s simply not in the interests of operators to extend days if they aren’t compensated for it.

More helicopter flying time = more expense for the operator. Helicopters are expensive. Like-two-hours-of-flying-costs-more-than-my-Toyota-Matrix expensive. There’s a reason why we charge for extra vertical.

With unlimited vertical, there’s the possibility that the operator will “farm” runs and cycle clients through quick runs with the shortest fly-time possible. Or offer the same run over and over. There is no pressure to take the client skiing as much as possible.

Some operators even try to push unlimited vertical in the early season, such as January. While skiing early season can be epic, it’s harder to get the long lines. For starters, there is less daylight so the ski day is shorter. And the alpine might not be quite yet in condition, resulting in shorter runs.

Last Frontier Heliskiing believes in value for money and a vertical drop guarantee. When skiing’s awesome, people tend to see extra vertical as a terrific investment. When life in the city becomes chaotic and dark, at least you’ll have memories of waist-deep power to get you through the office cubicles and road rage.

Some companies even charge a higher price upfront for unlimited heli skiing, but why bother?  If you want to continue skiing because conditions are out-of-this-world, we can make that happen and will clearly define the additional costs.

If conditions are average and you’re satisfied with the guaranteed amount, then we’ll call it quits and end on a positive note. However, if conditions are poor and the guaranteed vertical isn’t reached, disappointment is met with a silver lining. You’ll get a refund.

The Last Frontier Heliskiing Way

For many, heli-skiing is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If you’re returning from an expedition across Antarctica, where you survived for months on cans of Spam and granola, pick the buffet. However, if you’re planning a special ski trip, pick the set-course menu with an accompanying wine list.

There’s a time when quality is more important than quantity and heli-skiing is one of them.

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